Monday, November 25, 2013

Whinlatter Duathlon Race Report

Suddenly daunted in the carpark by the sheer numbers of people here.  I'd had a lovely weekend until now - just me and Mr Rodgers and the chickens at the campsite.

The little boy made me laugh, telling me that his dad was chasing a chicken because he wanted to "Feel what a chicken felt like".  I was trying to pack my car!  Not roll around in the icy grass laughing my head off at the thought of a grown man with a family trying to "feel a chicken".

Those were our only race neighbours on the Lane Foot campsite.  Now all these other people were here at registration.  I picked up my number 160-odd and got my free buff and Sportident dibber (old skool).

Back at the car, I'd locked Mr Rodgers in and the alarm was going off.  Sadly embarrased, poor love.  I released him and he set about fixing my bike together whilst I made warming joggy motions.

I racked my bike and vaguely said hello to some friends of Ms C.  Really I could've paid more attention but I just wasn't expecting anyone to say, "hi Trep", today.

Next surprise was a team mate from Norton Wheelers showing up, all out of context.  We had a hug and debated what the hell we were doing.  I never had Owen down as a runner and I now felt a bit of a numpty in my bright white Sheffield Tri jersey.

Finally racked in amongst chaos of mountain bikes which slid down the icy racking, posed on a slope, I stood through the race briefing then we all walked and slid over to the start-line, walking on the grass to avoid the icy tarmac.  Racers were about 10 wide across the track and stretched back down the mountain trail about 150m.  The uphill start soon thinned us out at the back and I had a few exchanges with a lady who breathed as hard as I do before I finally got ahead of her on a narrow, steep climb through the woods.

What am I saying?  The narrow, steep climbs through the woods just kept coming.  Finally they got boggy and I just kept going, embracing the cold water as a way to cool down my legs whilst others picked their way around the bog.  I dropped many and only a few came past me.  Perhaps fleecy leggings weren't such a bad call after-all.

I find it amazing in sport that sometimes someone can come flying past and there's nothing you can do to respond.  Other times, other more pleasurable times, they make you lift your game and you stick with them... then you chat for a bit and then you just keep going.  This is what happened with Sarah Waldon from Sale Harriers.  Being from the neighbouring town of Altrincham, I had to keep going when she came by me and despite having a shoe-lace moment, I managed to stick it out into transition, come in two places behind her and wave good bye on the bike.

From Transition, the mountain bike route threw me straight downhill onto some lovely wide burmy trails which allowed me to find my bike legs quite spectacularly.  All except for one downhill shreadder, I kept my position before having to concentrate on the UP!

I felt like I reeled in more people than passed me.  Two chaps stuck with me most of the way round as they seemed to be waiting for eachother and I was slower on the downhills and faster on the up.  I hit speeds of 20 mph on the straights, all before the course started to zig zag back and forth back up the steep side of the hills.  This bit I found really frustrating as non-cross-country riders tried to scoosh their bikes around icy hairpin bends, still with one foot clipped into the pedal.  After about the fifth time of queing politely, I finally bit the bullet and ran around three people.  Forced to take the less obvious line, I found myself doing a collaboration of bunny-hopping (on foot), sliding and ski-ing IN CLEATS across icy rock.  Somehow, both myself and EmVee managed to stay upright and were spat out the bottom of the small cliff in one piece... only to find that the people I'd just passed were all accomplished downhillers... and locals... and now I was in their way.

Thankfully that meant I had someone to follow as I'd never ridden this arduous route before and BOY! was it tough in the ice.  I entrusted my life to EmVee on many occasions and she rose to the challenge, steering me through the scariest of drop-offs and bouncing around boulders and tree roots without a whimper - more than could be said for her rider.

By the time I got to the final section of the bike course, I discovered that my heroics on the downhill had taken their toll much more than any aerobic workout and I slumped into tackling the uphills in the lowest gears known to man.  At one point my brain started to doubt my situation after I'd watched riders travelling the opposite way disappear and gradually finding I was alone in a very dark and empty woodland... that is except for the faithful souls following behind me.  I looked around for a marker tape but there were none to be seen.

"Are we going the right way?" I called to the fella behind.  The evidence of his scouse accent indicated he didn't know either.  Down and down the trail.  No point in going slow to find out you're lost, best get it over with, brakes off.  Finally, the sigh of relief when a scrap of red and white tape appeared, tied to a tree.  Then it doesn't really help that your re-ascent of the hill is legit... you've still got to get back up the hill.

The sting in the tail came as I met the runners on their way down to the finish - an entire discipline ahead of me.  At this point, the route flies off the side of the forest track in a (seemingly) near vertical cliff face where TSK had stationed himself to flaunt his belly at me and laugh at duathletes trying to cope with the sense of impending doom that comes from hitting a near vertical cliff at high speed on a two-wheeled vehicle.  I told him he'd caught me at my darkest hour as my face contorted to cope with the balance and braking necessary to stay alive and not wash out.

He said he'd seen worse.

The final stages were a range of obstacles - wooden sculpted bridges and raised trails which have scared the living daylights out of me ever since I plunged a full - sus bike off one at the bike show in London 8 years ago and it bucked me off like a pissed-off pony.  My brain was gone and it was all wrong.  I nursed the bike slowly over what I dared and if I couldn't see it, I ran it.  Finally I was spat out into transition & for once, was relieved to leave the bike behind.

A quick switch into soggy shoes which hadn't had chance to re-freeze, thank god, and I was away.  Nothing left.  After the first open trail I started to trudge and we mostly all reverted to a walk.  Others in front of me sped up from time to time but every time I tried, there was nothing left so I walked but it didn't matter. The sun was shining and there was snow all around.

I was glad of my cap to keep the sun out of my eyes and I was surrounded by the aural onslaught of ice and snow melting from the tree branches, disturbed by the occasional breeze.  After 24 minutes of climbing I reached the summit and paused for a moment, turning in all directions to ingest the view.

Then I plunged down the slopes, not too slippery as the sleet had begun to turn into slush and my shoes gripped.

To my amazement, I caught up a couple of people again on the descent.  This Dark Peaker CAN freefall!  The last few hundred metres flatten out just enough to force you to turn the legs but I was in and tried to stop myself on the marshal as I dibbed in for the final time to an exhausted hug with my patient husband and post-race analysis with a very snuggly wrapped Owen who had been finished for ages.

In short: Whinlatter offroad duathlon highly recommended for anyone with an apetite for mud, impressive scenery tough fell running and gnarly mountain bike trails.  If you don't like map reading, that's fine.  The course is really well marked.  The sportident timing was a bit useless, relying on the competitor being "withit" enough to find a marshal to dib in / out which in my case didn't happen on T2.  However, the organisation promised to resolve this and the deficiency in bike racking for next time.

Run 1 - 4.3 mile 178m climb - 51 min
Bike - 10 mile 518m climb - 1 hr 48 min
Run 2 - 3 mile 213m climb - 44 min
Overall 3 hr 38 min

Photos purchased from and courtesy of Sportsunday.

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